Sunderland’s poor form was successfully exposed by the pace and intensity of Chelsea’s ruthless attacking prowess. The Blues equalled their highest scoring tally in a game with seven goals against the short of form Mackems.
Chelsea dominated throughout and could arguably have reached double figures before the sound of the final whistle. Nicolas Anelka was on hand with two goals although unable to secure a hat-trick after failing to convert some glorious opportunities, which were largely overshadowed by the Chelsea display. Carlo Ancelotti claimed the display was the best the Blues had produced all season, and one that certainly cemented his place amongst the home fans. Frank Lampard was to his back goal-scoring best, converting two well placed crosses, as was the 4-3-3 system, previously favoured by former boss Jose Mourinho. Saturday’s game saw a trio of Flourent Malouda, Joe Cole and Anelka provide an enjoyed mixture of width and the ability to switch between the three positions. The three creationists in this way made themselves unattainable for the opposition to deal with. Often evading their markers and providing deft balls in the box to which the onrushing midfielders and attackers duly appreciated. Free-flowing football enabled Lampard to control the middle of the park and make his trademark bursts from midfielder in the comfort that either Juliano Belletti or Michael Ballack would cover his position.
Ashley Cole produced a sensational performance, although replaced by Yuri Zhrikov at half-time the flying full-back was integral to Chelsea’s dominance on the left hand side. Cole and Malouda showed great awareness of each other and their coalition was venomous – the duo had previously failed to re-discover the relationship that served them so well under the reign of Guus Hiddink. The game redefined fans’ concerns over the lack of width – the formation change accompanying natural wingers allowed for the Londoners to showcase their attacking capabilities. Even without their entourage of African athleticism the Blues were able to overcome the considerable challenge. Their attacks were able to outshine the two poorly conceded goals the Blues succumbed to, with ex-blue Boudewijn Zenden and Darren Bent profiting from lacklustre defending.
Off the field influential box-to-box midfielder Michael Essien has returned to the Bridge after a knee injury ruled him out of the remainder of the Africa Cup of Nations. Essien is expected to be out for two to three weeks although a more conclusive scan will confirm the full damage. Essien is a huge miss for Ancelotti and his value to the side is almost parallel to that of the talismanic Didier Drogba. Ancelotti, however, will have been impressed by Belletti’s natural ability to adapt to the holding midfield role, as the experienced right-back produced a respectful display in front of the home faithful. Belletti – although awarded with rare starts under Ancelotti – is regarded as an essential squad player. His adaptable playing style allows for the player to undertake any responsibility or position the manager assigns to him. Drogba, who surely would have capitalised on Sunderland’s undesirable weekend performance, was on hand to head home for his national side. The Ivoirian’s enjoyed a 3-0 win over Ghana and will now progress to the latter stages of the tournament. Drogba’s absence is yet to have impacted on the Blues season ambitions, as they have scored 12 goals in their last two outings.
Chelsea’s next game sees their focus return back to the FA Cup, a competition they hope to benefit from after Manchester United and Liverpool both made early exits. For now the Blues have retained top spot after pressure from the chasing pack. Their 7-2 victory has redefined their title credentials and will provide momentum for the side to build on. A tie at Preston shouldn’t stake a considerable challenge, although you can never rely on progressing to the next round in the FA Cup even when faced with lower league opposition.